Wellness is very much a ‘thing’ just now.
Feeling fulfilled by what you do. Looking after yourself. Getting your head in a ‘good’ place. Dealing properly with anxiety, stress and pressure. A healthy balance of work and play.
It’s something we are all encouraged to strive for and yet, it does come from a place of privilege. It assumes we all have a choice when it comes to working and that we don’t need every working hour we’re offered in order to scrape by. It assumes good health. It assumes the opportunities exist and that we have the necessary skills. It assumes we can work at all. It assumes too much of a world where only the tiniest percentage of us are happy in their work, sadly. My pet hate is motivational images telling you that your dreams are sitting there, just waiting for you to grasp them in some trite inspirational sentence. They’re not. Not waiting for you, that is.
Still, that said. I made some tough choices a while back and find myself now in a rare position to avail of such a thing. I’ve achieved a modicum of ‘balance’ and I know I’m very lucky. I’m fully aware of that luck, its transience and frankly, I’ll take it while it’s going.
I’m also aware, that for the outsider looking in on Social media (I play a LOT on Twitter, I admit) that it must seem that I have the perfect life. I get to work from home. I post pictures from the beach every day. I get to see my family more than most working parents. I also get to pick and choose my projects.
Not so. Social media never shows the whole picture – it’s curated snapshots of what we let people see, after all. It ironically takes a lot of effort behind the scenes to maintain work balance. It does take luck, but it also takes calculated action, listening and saying the right thing at the right time. Things ARE good, right now. They’re not always. They haven’t always been. They can’t be, can they?
I intentionally gave up a permanent job to go back to what I love. Games. Freelance Design. Creating. Teaching. It wasn’t done lightly. I had very little savings. No recourse if it all went horribly wrong.
All I had was faith that I could make it work and the support of my wife, who was also making her own leap for that very same balance between work and creativity. (https://yvonneleonceramics.com/) Timing, huh?
What needs to be made clear to those looking in is that all this DIDN’T JUST HAPPEN. I contacted every single contact I’ve ever made, pulling in favours from friends, making sure everyone knew I was on the market for work again. Working hard. Yvonne did much the same, building on her name and letting everyone know about her art – she’s been getting ready for this for over twenty years. We worried. We fretted. We worried some more. We had second and third and many more thoughts. And money swiftly became a problem.
I carefully considered all my experience and skills and where to focus them, built a new website, polished my c.v., re-branded myself to fit the kind of work I was looking for and launched WeeGem Design into the wind in what is, no illusions here, a very crowded creative market.
Is there a difference?
The thing is, I have done this before and been doing what I do for a long time. I’ve many years of working for ‘the man’ and freelancing under my belt. I know hard work and I’m not scared of it. I wasn’t just leaping into the unknown. I’m also privileged, in a way, to have had the experience of making some amazing ‘things’ in the past and to still have a hunger to do so much more, learn so much more. The things I’ve made can be shown to potential clients and help me get more work. I’ve a good idea of how to sell what I do and feel like I’m at the top of my game.
I also knew I’d have to take ‘Barge-pole’ jobs for a while. (Jobs you wouldn’t normally touch with a barge-pole.) But when the bills are coming in faster than the invoices, you do what you have to do. That’s the price of independence. It’s hard work and you have to do MANY things instead of just one to get by. And how much is enough? It’s so easy to overload yourself too when you’re afraid of turning away work.
Through trying everything I could and six months of using a maxed out credit card to pay the bills, the stars finally aligned, all the wooing and waiting patiently for contacts to get back to me paid off and I got to work with some great clients on the BIG fun projects I was yearning for. I’m making games for kids again, teaching Game Art at Pulse College (which I adore – Pulse College – Games), and writing my children’s books at last.
(If you are going freelance, make sure you have at least six months worth of savings. Those first precious invoices can take a LONG time to appear from initial meetings to completion.)
So I’ve arrived there. That mystical place they speak of. Balance. Of a sort. I’m so much happier now than I was and while I don’t pretend its easy, it is better.
I get to spend time with my wife and kids instead of being stuck on the M50 ring road around Dublin for two hours a day, I’m loving the work I get to do. I get to walk the beach at dawn with Hobbes the dog (who is far more popular on my twitter and instagram feeds than me.) That time is well spent thinking about the day ahead and working through problems.
My wife works half her week in the city and the rest in her Ceramic studio in the garden. So if the kids get sick, or there’s an emergency or something needing done, we’re always ‘present’. That’s our gift to them and to ourselves. Our relationship is stronger for it, we’re less stressed and our kids are very happy. We have just enough money coming in to cover the bills. We’re certainly not rich… nor poor. We have enough. Perfect, no?
Balance is a precarious thing. You’re on a tightrope. You really do have to concentrate to stay there. I’m lucky, for now. I need to be continuously conscious of all the things I mentioned earlier. Money. Health. Opportunities. Skills. Ability. The balance anyone has right now is dependent on having all those things.
I need to work hard to maintain them, otherwise the entire house of cards will topple. The universe doesn’t owe us balance. It doesn’t care if we rise or if we fall. We have to maintain it ourselves as best we can. Keep learning new skills. Maintain an appetite to see and hear new things. Stay on the curve of technology and trends. Meet new contacts and maintain old ones. Make careful decisions as to what work to take on next and make sure it’s not too little or too much. And very importantly, help others if you’re now in a position to do so.
Paradoxically, finding Balance is hard. Balance is fleeting.
You may need to spend a lot of time out of balance to even recognise what it is you really need, but don’t give up trying to find it. Having it, at least for a while, is worth all the work.